It has been hard to miss the conversations about Ecology and the Ethics of our spending.
From single-use plastic, waste production and food waste, to the anti-health and anti-environmental chemicals in many of our household cleaning products and cosmetics, to sugar and obesity, and the impact of unethical food and clothing production. These conversations are everywhere, frequently generating heated and emotional reactions.
They can feel shaming, insurmountable. too expensive and frankly too hard to do much about.
We are a family of five on a single income. We live in an affluent area, but where there are a good percentage of people who are nothing like as affluent as the area suggests, and the cost of living is expensive.
We rent our home, are grateful for the child benefit and tax credits that the state supplies, and whilst we are solvent – praise God! – we have very little margin.
Holidays are rare and always done on the cheap/free, and going out for a meal or even to the pub is a treat rather than something we can do on a regular basis. If we are able to treat ourselves, we will be far more likely to have a takeaway, or a ‘Dine In For Two for £10’ from a supermarket – it is far cheaper than going out.
We are very happy and richly blessed, but we have to be frugal.
I know that many of us are in the same situation.
From this perspective, the idea of paying more for our food and clothes in order to be ethical and ecologically responsible, can seem like a waste of precious resources and a case of putting other faceless people before our own children.
The financial, qualitative and convenience implications of choosing this approach can be very off putting – however I would argue that starting with a little at a time, it is not that hard or expensive to do.
Before Husbandman and I were married, he announced that as a matter of principle, all the tea and coffee in our house would have to be fairly traded.
I responded that I was happy to do that, but that he would have to find me a very tasty loose-leaf tea. I like a properly brewed cuppa and many of the Fairtrade teabags I had tried were pretty disgusting. I didn’t (and still don’t) see the point of buying substandard products, just to support people, without the option of feedback, but I would have been reluctant to give up tea altogether.
Thankfully he succeeded and we found a few, and 9 years later, I am still drinking my favourite.
THEN CAME CHOCOLATE.
I really miss Snickers bars and many other types, but I cannot justify buying and eating chocolate that is both directly and indirectly involved in slavery – and to be clear, when a company has committed to good practice and transparency – they really shout about it. It has been a bit of a sacrifice over the past 10 years, but not that hard, and as the awareness has grown, so have the ranges of things I can buy.
Fairtrade, Tradecraft, Rainforrest Alliance, Cocoa Life, Ubuntu, UTZ – are all massive clues. They are regulated and follow certain standards which are open to scrutiny. They are not perfect. But they are transparent, and they are a crucial step in the right direction.
If there is no symbol, then it is UP TO US to research the company before buying from them, not to turn a blind eye, telling ourselves that it is probably ok.
Because as much as I might like them, how can I possibly justify the expense of human indignity in order to enjoy a treat?
We are all selfish, this is one of the factors of being human. One of the most selfish comments I ever heard about this issue, was from a woman who would argue that she definitely supported social justice, but who when faced with the evidence said,
“Well I like Mars bars, so I am going to continue eating them”.
It was an honest response. There was no BS about it. But it wasn’t good enough.
Our pleasure is never of more value than someone else’s dignity, or their fundamental human rights. We may be selfish, but we are all capable of change, and the first step is to start with ourselves.
This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
For us, this past decade has been a journey of committment and awareness. With Husbandman and I growing in our understanding of Human Trafficking, where our food comes from, what we are using and consuming and why we buy what we buy.
So over this series, I will share some of our discoveries, the way God has broken our hearts for justice, challenging us to see where our treasure and hearts really are.
As far as food shopping has gone, we started with tea, coffee and chocolate, and as our budgeting adjusted, it became easier to add things like bananas, avocados, pepper corns and spices, cotton wool and wine (from some South American and African countries, where there is less worker protection) to our Fairtrade groceries list.
We haven’t finished, are definitely not perfect, but we are committed to putting one foot in front of the other.
It has taken sacrifice, but has also grown a deeper heart of compassion for our brothers and sisters around the world, a desire to uncompromisingly do what’s right and to more fully become who God has called us to be.
I know that you too can do the same, so I encourage you to begin where you are, and move forward from there.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?